I Apologize Way Too Much, And It Has Got to Stop

Over the course of two days, I said “sorry” a total of 35 times. And those were just the ones I actually counted—there were probably more I missed. I’ve always had a bad habit of apologizing for insignificant things, like accidentally nudging my boyfriend while we’re sitting on the couch, but I didn’t quite realize just how bad it was. As a joke, he told me he was going to count how many times I apologized during the weekend. But hearing just how much I apologize in my everyday life for such little things was a wake-up call.

Since that weekend, I’ve been more and more observant, and have realized that this subtle habit slips into my conversations all the time. I apologize for leaving to use the bathroom (yes, really), I apologize when I reach for a napkin across the table, I even apologize after I sneeze. After thinking more and more about my instinctual apologetic response, I began wondering why it is that I do this. When did I learn that minor inconsequential things warranted an apology?


I think I picked up this habit like I have any other—over time, and without my own awareness. When I say sorry for these little things, it isn’t because I consciously believe I’ve done something wrong. However, I know that I’m not alone in possessing this habit. I know many people, both men and women, who say sorry far more than they should. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, women are more likely than men to apologize. And I think a potential reason for this is that we’ve been gradually conditioned to apologize for inconveniencing others. Our societal gender norms prescribe early on that women should be polite, caring, and submissive, and this norm may translate into a habitual tendency to apologize, spilling into situations where apologies don’t belong. As psychologist Harriet Lerner puts it, “the reflexive ‘I’m sorrys’ may be nothing more than a verbal tic, a little self-effacing girl-thing that developed long ago, and now is something like an automatic hiccup.” Well, I think my hiccups have gotten out of control.


As a psych major, I’m constantly thinking and learning about the mind, my own in particular. I now know just how much subtle things influence our perceptions and behaviours. Personally, I think that this habit has stemmed from the feelings of inadequacy I harboured during most of my adolescence. My self-esteem was in pretty bad shape, and that feeling of inconvenience weighed on me heavily. Though my self-esteem and self-worth have both increased as I’ve gotten older, I think this residual habit has stuck around, likely because of how automatic it has always been. However, it’s probably also influenced by the way other people view me. And I don’t want to be thought as weak, hesitant, or unsure of myself.

As I’ve been doing more reading, I’ve come across some ways to try to quit this habit. One of my favourites is to replace “I’m sorry” with something more productive that actually conveys what you really mean. For example, instead of saying “I’m sorry I’m late,” you can say “Thank you for waiting for me.” I love this! It turns a negative into a positive and isn’t weighed down by guilt. I also think another thing I’m going to work on is being more mindful of what I say. If I’m attuned to what I’m saying, I’ll be better able to recognize when I slip up. I think both of these tricks will really help me become more aware of this habit, and will slowly reduce how reflexive it is.


I think my little wake-up call was much needed. I by no means think apologizing is a bad thing, when you’ve done something wrong that deserves verbal recognition and remorse. But when it gets to the point where it’s a second nature fallback phrase, it’s become a problem. I’m glad I had the opportunity to reflect on my own habits—I think it gets very easy to run on autopilot through life, not paying much attention to the words we use. But the words we use have meaning and affect both how others see us and how we see ourselves. I’m sorry that I, among many other girls, have been bred to believe that we are an inconvenience, that we are disturbing the peace or getting in the way. And I’m sorry that this habit has become so ingrained in so many people. But something I’m not sorry for is becoming unapologetic. It may take some time, but I’ll get there.




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